*Family members at the plaque to Fr James Austin in Sixmilebridge.
A PLAQUE has been erected in honour of a Sixmilebridge priest who administered the last rites to soldiers fighting in the GPO during the 1916 Easter Rising.
This involvement in a seismic moment in Irish history and local connection had been known for over a century.
Fr James Austin was born in the towland of Coolycasey in 1876 to Martin and Bridget (Moloney), he was one of their seven children, the family comprised of four sons and three daughters. He attended Derranaveigh(Oatfield) National School and completed his secondary education in St. Flannan’s College, Ennis. He then went to St Patrick’s College, Maynooth to study for the priesthood.
On June 17th 1900, James was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Killaloe by Archbishop of Dublin, Dr William J Walsh. Fr Austin was sent on loan from Diocese of Killaloe to the Archdiocese of Glasgow for a year, serving at St Johns, Port Glasgow and Renfrewshire. In 1902, he returned to Ireland to serve in Broadford until 1905.
Across two decades he ministered as a curate in Feakle, Dunkerrin, Kilballyowen, Shinrone, Corofin, Ruan, Crusheen, Kilmurry Ibrickane, Coolmeen, Bournea and Killimer. In October 1935 Fr James retired as a priest on health grounds and spent the final 13 years in The Burton Arms Hotel in Carrigaholt. He died in hospital in Ennis on 26th August 1948 after serving 48 years as a priest. He was buried in the church grounds of his native parish Sixmilebridge.
During his time in Shinrone, Fr James was elected Chairman of the local Sinn Fein Organisation and played an active role in promoting the party’s values. His brother Roddy Austin married a girl from Cratloe named Setright, they lived in Dublin where Roddy worked for Dublin County Council. In April 1916 Fr James decided to visit his brother in Dublin for Easter and while he was in Dublin, with his Sinn Fein background, he was asked to visit the GPO in O Connell St and administer the last rites to the soldiers who were dying in action.
This contribution to Irish history could very easily have been lost only for Michael Hyland’s decision to enquire about his background in Sixmilebridge. “He will now never be forgotten as people forever will talk about the priest from The Bridge who was in the GPO during the Easter Rising 1916,” secretary of the Sixmilebridge Historical Society Tim Crowe stated. After Michael made contact with Tim, it was uncovered that Fr Austin was a close relative of Mary O’Loughlin née Stephens who was able to trace the family history.
To honour Fr Austin, the Historical Society has erected a plaque over his grave in the grounds of St Finnachta’s Church in Sixmilebridge. The cost of the plaque was appropriately sponsored by 10 families from his native townland of Coolycasey.
Speaking to The Clare Echo, Tim admitted that it brought great delight to the Historical Society and local community to become aware of this link to the Easter Rising. “Everybody likes to say they had a relation or a link to the 1916 Easter Rising, the people of Sixmilebridge were delighted that Fr James Austin’s contribution in the GPO was recovered, developed and established in the last two years. The erection of the plaque in grounds where he was buried is a reminder to the future generations that a Sixmilebridge person contributed to the 1916 Easter Rising”.
When attempting to get further information on Fr Austin, Michael Hyland made contact with Sixmilebridge GAA Club where he was directed to Tim who found the grave and a photograph was identified by Fr John Jones which assisted in tracing distant relatives in Coolycasey.
A local newspaper in Tipperary first published details in 1916 of the then Shinrone curate administering the last rites.
Despite this, no awareness existed in The Bridge of their local link to the armed insurrection. “It was gone,” Tim admitted. “You die twice, once when your organs fail and again when people stop talking about you. Fr Austin would probably have been forgotten around here were it not for Tullamore historian Michael Hyland. Fr Austin wasn’t well known, he was a very quiet person, he didn’t spend much time in Sixmilebridge because of his parish work elsewhere. It is wonderful to establish the fact of his involvement and to acknowledge it”.